December 2, 2020

Sinning? Saved?

sinner.jpgFrom time to time, I’ve referred to the common questions I get in my vocation as campus minister and Bible teacher here at OBI. Today I was asked another one that I realize is very common, and I’m sure many of you get this question in your ministry contexts.

You have to understand that this question is particularly pressing to my Southern Baptist friends, so I will put it as close as possible to the way they would phrase the question .

“Let’s say that someone is saved, but they have a sin they just don’t want to give up. They keep doing this, even though it’s wrong, and they won’t repent of that sin. Are they really saved?”

[This was asked of me by a 25 year-old staff member who is from a PCUSA background where she became convinced that any efforts at repentance were useless, since we were all totally depraved anyway. After 4 years as a student at our school, she was thoroughly Baptist in her understanding of these things, and she attended a large SBC church in college. She works with is as a houseparent, coach and worship leader.]

This question involves a number of things that need to be examined more closely.

First of all, by “saved,” my friend is describing the Southern Baptist understanding that when one has walked forward at a public invitation and/or prayed the “sinner’s prayer” in some context, then one is “saved,” i.e. a Christian. Baptism normally follows, but is not part of salvation. In the SBC, this is understood as crossing the line into the state of “once saved-always saved,” and this salvation cannot be lost for any reason.

Because there is so much emphasis on outward acts- aisle walking, knowing when one prayed to receive Christ, baptism- and specific times and places, there is generally a clear date as to when “salvation” occurred. So it is common to hear, “I was saved the last night of youth camp last year.” This is very important in how we think about this matter, for I am confident that such outward acts- aside from baptism- are of little actual importance.

This presents problems when the behavior of the “saved” person does not match the expectations of the “saved” condition. Concepts such as “repentance” or “Christian growth” must fit into the assumption that a major change of heart, mind, desire and status has occurred at the point of “getting saved.”

It is common, therefore, for the boy who “got saved” at camp- and shortly baptized thereafter- to be doing all his old sinful activities a month later. The problem now becomes, “Was he really saved?” or “Is he a back-slider?”

If a person is confident they were saved, but still persist in what other Christians typically see as obvious sin- such as smoking pot or fornication- then this question is bound to come up among sincerely concerned persons. I’ve found that the more the conversion came from evangelism that depends on the methods of revivalism and evangelists having special meetings, the more this issue will be heard as families and friends deal with the disappointment and confusion of a person who made a profession of faith- sometimes quite dramatic- living in unrepentant sin. On the other hand, the more a person is in a Christian community that emphasizes growth in grace, faith and sanctification, the less friends and family will be alarmed and the more constructive will be their response. The frequent response in revivalistic communities is to get the person in question to make another profession of faith on similar terms, continuing a cycle that is often torturous and depressing.

I’d like to examine this question from the two sides of hopeful assurance and proper concern for the salvation of the person involved.

First, let’s be hopeful. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Throughout scripture, Jesus saves great sinners who rarely are particularly impressive in their repentance or faithfulness as disciples. Growth in grace is often a matter of a difficult and wandering road. The early stages of a convert’s journey in discipleship may be, like the steps of a toddler, halting, slow and punctuated with failure.

God is not harsh to reject us, but faithful to love us, through these seasons. He often lets our own persistence in sin become the means of working his grace into us. If we have acquired a taste for sin, we may drink it to the dregs and suffer the consequences before we see the superiority of our Savior and the pleasures of obedience. Persistent sin is rarely- thankfully- cured instantly, but over time, and in God’s time. His goal in our lives is not a plant that grows quickly without root, but a tree that bears fruit. There are seasons when trees that will be fruitful look, even to the eyes of the mature, to be dead and hopeless. But this is a God who brings life from the dead.

So speak to this sinning brother or sister as an erring sheep. Show them God’s word, both his law and his Gospel. In all likelihood, they are being dealt with by the Holy Spirit in ways that may be unobserved or unknown. Be faithful in prayer. Encourage them in the means of grace. Without presumption or purposeful ignorance, look for evidences of God’s grace. Believe that the Lord knows those who are His and will complete in them the good work that he started. Be hopeful, uplifting, gentle and steady. Do not be afraid to read the warnings of scripture, but also hold up the Gospel again and again and again.

At the same time, what about a concern for the soul of this sinning brother or sister? There is no doubt that the trust in outward means in many hyper-evangelistic environments winds up animating those who are, in fact, spiritually dead. Often they are deceived and may be entirely without faith in Christ. They are animated, not with spiritual life, but with one of its many imitations. We must place no trust in aisle walking or sinner’s prayers. Be concerned for one thing only: Does this person trust Jesus Christ as Lord to save, right now? Are they willing to rely, in every way that God asks, upon Christ as all-sufficient and all-satisfying?

Not one of us repents perfectly. None of us are saved by repentance or remain saved by persistence in repentance. Yet, Jesus called upon believers to “repent and believe the Good News.” To repent is to change one’s mind, orientation and “true north” from sin and self to Christ. This change of mind, if it is the work of the Spirit, will be evidenced in a change in life. That change will come from a knowledge of one’s one sinfulness rather than attempts at being righteous, and the works of righteousness will be the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. They may be unobservable, but they are real. They are not faith itself- for we are saved by faith alone- but they are vitally connected to faith. True faith does not ever exist alone, but brings along repentance, confession and evangelical obedience as companions.

Persistent sin is a challenge to the assurance of salvation. This is true of every one of us. This is crucial, for none of us can play the role of God and stand in absolutely judgement over another person. Jesus was clear about this. Still, we can speak, from scripture, of what is and is not part of a life that has been transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of His Dear Son. The epistles particularly are repeatedly describing the life that is congruent with the Gospel, and contrasting it with the old, the dead, and the demonic. At every point we can see and understand this difference, we are- with the Spirit’s help- to change, pursue, pray and live accordingly.

So let us not waver: If anyone names themselves as Christ’s, and does not desir to repent from none sin, they are acting in a way incongruent with salvation through Jesus. This may not mean they are not Christians, but it does nothing to say they are.

The warnings of Hebrews are real. We cannot escape if we neglect so great a salvation. Hear those warnings, and hear them in full force. There are no games, fine print or clauses. These are not passages about losing salvation, but descriptions of a lively, persevering faith that comes to the crossroads of Christ and sin, and goes forward with Christ. These are the roadsigns along the way that all of sinners- notorious sinners and leaders in the church- must see and respond to. When we hear the verbs at the heart of these passages (in bold), we are hearing the way of faith, in positives and negatives, warnings and covenant promises.

Hebrews 3:13-14 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 4:11-16 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (12) For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (13) And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (14) Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 6:4-9 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (7) For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. (8) But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (9) Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation.

Hebrews 10:19-31 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, (20) by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, (21) and since we have a great priest over the house of God, (22) let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (23) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (25) not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (26) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (28) Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (29) How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (30) For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (31) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 12:12-17 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, (13) and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (14) Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (15) See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (16) that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (17) For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of PRESENT faith, and the deceptive nature of the EXTERNALS that so often occupy these discussions. The question is NOT “Did he pray a prayer?” or any other external event. Christian groups that emphasize these as equal to faith are teaching a false teaching. Faith is a walk, a way, a journey, a growth. It is NOT A SINGLE EVENT with NO OTHER IMPLICATIONS OR COMPONENTS. True faith rests on Christ alone and completely, but that true faith is persevering, confessing, progressively obedient and so forth.

Also, please remember that the journey of Christian growth is a long and winding road, with many failures and disappointments. Looking at any one of us at a particular moment may raise legitimate questions about our salvation. May we all be patient and look long enough to get a true picture.

This post has not been about the church, but it is clearly important for elders and pastors to be gently, Biblical and helpful in this area. There are times to bring the sheep closer because that sheep is wandering. There are times to tell a sheep that they appear to not belong to the flock. There are questions to be asked, of course, but the work of the ministry is not to constantly overturn assurance. The ministry is to build the assurance and confidence of God’s people. A ministry of questioning and warning cannot be taken out of the context of a ministry of teaching, guiding, mentoring, leading, restoring, praying, counseling and restoring. There are, no doubt, some ministers who take joy in removing the assurance of as many as possible. Let us be shepherds who love the sheep, and not those who ever rejoice in turning away anyone that we can bring to the Father of all mercies.

Comments

  1. J. K. Terberg says

    True that the mystery of the question regarding ‘once saved always saved’ is too incredibly important to play games with. It may just be that losing the game has dire eternal consequences, and that is too enormous a risk to take.

    If I put a duck in the pond and it cackles and clucks and crows and starts drowning, maybe I need to consider the possibility that it just might not be a duck …

  2. Phil Walker says

    It’s difficult, isn’t it? Even in contexts where discipleship is emphasised and the implications of trusting Jesus as Lord are made clear, things can still go wrong. I’m sure all of us who frequent IM will know friends who were baptised, did profess a living trust in the Saviour, but have since stopped coming to church, being in contact, whatever, perhaps as the result of some sin. We don’t know where they’re at, spiritually speaking. Path, rocks, thorns, or just a patch of good soil on hard times?

  3. Hebrews 6:4-9 For it is impossible …………………
    What if you feel you have already gone past this mark? Should you give up or is there any hope?

  4. Hebrews 6:4-9 For it is impossible……. What if you have gone past this point? Is there any hope?

  5. Michael I really don’t want to be argumentative, but I think you’ll be able to identify what I’m talking about if you reread your own post. You are clearly taking great pains to walk around the problem. There’s a real question here. One that the tortured soul trapped in a life of sin needs to have explained. You might not know the answer, but then it is appropriate to say so instead of a post with alot of verbal handwaving.

    Somewhere people like me have misunderstood the scripture. Where we’ve misunderstood it is terribly important. I don’t know what I’ve misunderstood, but right now there is paradox in my faith.

    When I read the scriptures I hear of the regenerating (please don’t go Christianese on me here, I mean regenerating like lay people mean) power of being “born again” into the Spirit. There are supposed to be Spiritual Gifts, an indwelling of Christ, a new heart, and a thousand other synonyms both metaphorical and metaphysical.

    Bottom line is, getting saved is supposed to change you. And that change is pointed to as evidence of getting saved.

    But for me there is no such evidence. In fact, I’m far worse a man than I was a boy (I was baptised at a very mature 11). I have held firm to that commitment. Though I’ve certainly wrestled with God like Jacob, I’ve never walked away from my faith or my honest commitment to His glory.

    But apparently my commitment isn’t as honest as I’d portray it. I have sins (habitual) aplenty. I am regarded as a pious and God loving man by man who know me, but those who know me well know that I struggle daily with impossible walls of sin that still hold me prisoner, in a prison Christ was supposed to free me from.

    I don’t feel the freedom of Christ at all. My father was a concervative, but grace-filled man of God. He had a phrase, “struggle is just delaying obediance.” I await the promise of salvation, because I have not yet seen it.

    I’m not going to confess my sins in this forum. The magnatude of them or their specificly addicting nature isn’t important. But I know I’m not the only one. There are many others who worry that if they come near the Holy City at all it will be in the slums outside the gate.

    I’m fine with that if it’s my fate, I trust in the righteous judgement of God. I’ll be glad if I can only see the glow of that city over the horizon. Not to be too “Prodigal Son” here, but I wouldn’t mind being the lowest servant in His house.

    I’m more concerned for those who think they’ve become righteous in Christ, but are clearly not. At least, I’m able to admit that sins cripples my life. I see so many at my church and in the larger body of Christ around the world that dismiss their unrepentant sin. Or worse, they hide it in shame and use their guilt as a weapon to lash out at other children of God.

    But my fears for them aside. I have the knowledge of and a love for Christ my Lord (in so far as I guess a human can) but I have never experienced a regeneration, and without it, I can only assume that I am a very good liar especially to myself.

    I clearly love my sin more than God. The evidence is overwhelming, if I’m willing to confront it. But I am powerless to stand against my sin and God has not seen fit to take it from me.

    It’s really unfortunate that I don’t believe in a Calvinist God, because then I could hold out hope that God might just warp my will against my will so that I could be something worthy of His love. As it is, my will is free and freely seeks death.

  6. Brian Pendell says

    Before I start my response to the main article, I want to address mmarley’s question.

    Sir, I would direct you to this verse in 1 John —

    “9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

    Also this verse in Luke ..
    “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”” (Luke 17:4).

    God commands us to forgive that way because that is the way he has forgiven us.

    I urge you to remember one thing whenever you see the Bible uses the word “Impossible” — this one verse ….

    “37For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).

    So I encourage you to simply not worry about “unforgivable sins” or “impossible to be brought back” or what not — just confess your sins, repent, and follow him. And fail again and again, yes, but get up each time and try again.

    Never despair.

    ———
    Now to the main article …

    My personal read is that a person who did nothing more than mumble a five-sentence prayer and then went back to their original way of life is not saved; instead, they have merely added hypocrisy to their earlier sinful condition.

    Real faith — saving faith — is a faith of the heart. A faith that stops at the sinner’s prayer may very well be a faith merely of the lips. Which is why James is so insistent that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

    Christians are saved by faith alone. But this faith has to be a real faith and not merely a hypocritical one where we honor him merely with our lips. The acid test of a real faith vs. a hypocritical one is that a real faith really does follow God, really does it’s best to obey the commands of 1 John 3:23 – to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and love one another. A hypocritical faith doesn’t do this.

    Doesn’t mean I can judge a person as “saved” or not. Works are symptoms. But if a person has no symptoms whatsoever … that person should seriously consider whether his faith is genuine. And if it isn’t, to seek a real faith, from which works will flow naturally.

    Respectfully,

    Brain P.

  7. mmarley:What if you feel you have already gone past this mark? Should you give up or is there any hope?

    I know it is trite but I have always held to the idea that (if it really is possible to ‘lose’ salvation) “it is impossible…” to return only when one becomes indifferent (i.e. if you are at all worried about it then you can’t have gone too far). That may be grossly over-simplifying but I think there is some truth and assurance to be found there.

  8. ddickens:

    >You might not know the answer, but then it is appropriate to say so instead of a post with alot of verbal handwaving.

    Let me say this very clearly: Anyone struggling as you are struggling needs to find a real human being, an actual church community and face-to-face relationships in order to talk about this matter. I am not, by writing this, volunteering to be a pastoral counselor to anyone. I’ve said that dozens, maybe a hundred or more, times to people who want internet posts to function in a counseling or pastoral relationship. I simply do not believe internet relationships function at that level, and I don’t want to deceive you into thinking I am supplying answers.

    I have no further comment. I don’t want to offend. Sorry if I have done so.

  9. Brian Pendell says

    Ddickens — first of all, I agree with Michael that a real pastor and church fellowship is the right answer, and one can’t “pastor” online. Not enough information.

    That said …

    “There’s a real question here. One that the tortured soul trapped in a life of sin needs to have explained.”

    It is a problem that Paul himself had …

    “…I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. ”

    (Romans 7:15, 17-21).

    Paul himself was trapped in sins! So does that mean he wasn’t saved?

    On the contrary, just a few verse later Paul writes that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

    The answer, then, for those trapped in sin (like myself) is:

    1) Believe that Jesus Christ has died for those sins.
    2) Trust him.
    3) Make it our lifelong work to crucify that old man who is so addicted to sin. Of course, we’re going to lose a lot. But the mere fact that we fight at all means something.

    “When I read the scriptures I hear of the regenerating (please don’t go Christianese on me here, I mean regenerating like lay people mean) power of being “born again” into the Spirit.”

    Let me read some verses to you:

    ” 31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
    33He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount[b] of flour until it worked all through the dough.” ” (Matthew 13:31-33).

    One valid interpretation of these verses (there may be others) is that this is how the Kingdom works in a person’s life. It starts out as a tiny, tiny seed that in the course of time grows to impact every aspect of their waking lives.

    The church tends to oversell testimonies of people who have dramatic, life-changing conversions. But there are a lot more (like mine) that aren’t nearly so impressive. They start quietly, no fireworks, no big changes, no great surprises. But bit by bit over the years change happens. It doesn’t make a good testimony story, but I suspect it’s far more common than you might expect.

    “There are supposed to be Spiritual Gifts, an indwelling of Christ, a new heart, and a thousand other synonyms both metaphorical and metaphysical.”

    And so there will be. But it takes time for these things to manifest sometimes. Be patient.

    “Bottom line is, getting saved is supposed to change you. And that change is pointed to as evidence of getting saved.”
    True.

    “But for me there is no such evidence.”
    Would everyone who knew you say that? And are you truly as bad as you would be, say, if you were an out-an-out infidel?

    I’m a screwup too. But I know God is working in my life because I’m not in the pen for murder. Because I’ve had to learn to forgive things instead of take vengence for them. Not much in the way of evidence, really — lots of unbelievers manage that without Jesus — but in my case, it’s a definite step up.

    “But apparently my commitment isn’t as honest as I’d portray it.”

    No one’s commitment is as honest as they portray it.

    ” I have sins (habitual) aplenty.”
    So do I. So do most people. If you read some of the services in the Book of Common Prayer, confession of habitual sin is part of the rite for everyone.

    “those who know me well know that I struggle daily with impossible walls of sin that still hold me prisoner, in a prison Christ was supposed to free me from.”

    Paul struggled too. Being “set free” doesn’t mean we achieve perfection here and now. I think Mike himself described the Christian life as one constant struggle against sin — one much more like Omaha Beach than like a victory parade.

    Christ may have set *you* free — in which case, as in the Romans 7 verse above, it is no longer you doing it, but the sin in you. For there is a *you* that doesn’t want to sin, and is free from it … that freedom just hasn’t been extended to your entire physical being. Because the rest of you is still captive to the old man. Crucifying that old man and making tangible the freedom you already have is a great part of the Christian walk.

    “I don’t feel the freedom of Christ at all.”

    It’s a matter of belief, not a matter of emotion.

    “I await the promise of salvation, because I have not yet seen it.”

    “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. ” (Romans 8:23-25).

    “But I know I’m not the only one. There are many others who worry that if they come near the Holy City at all it will be in the slums outside the gate.”

    I am one of those. Normally, anyway. Right now I’m going through a period where I’m not worried about it. And the reason for it is very simple … who is your trust in? Jesus? Or in yourself?

    “I’m fine with that if it’s my fate,”

    Oh, horse potatoes. If you were “fine” with it you wouldn’t be agonizing over it.

    “I clearly love my sin more than God. The evidence is overwhelming, if I’m willing to confront it.”

    Again, horse potatoes. If you really loved your sin more than God, you wouldn’t be talking like this. You’d have put God behind your back and not worried about it.

    ” But I am powerless to stand against my sin and God has not seen fit to take it from me.”

    Walk with him. It took me TWELVE YEARS to kick a particularly besetting sin and it still isn’t fully beat.

    If God hasn’t taken the sin from you, it’s because it’s his will you fight it in his power. If you aren’t winning, then clearly you have some things to learn. You may discover in the end you *do* have the power to overcome this — but it won’t be done in a day, and it may not be done without help.

    But win or lose this battle, you may discover that you’ve conquered one sin only to have two more spring up to take it’s place. We’re not going to be done with sin while we’re in this earth. We don’t prematurely claim “victory”, and we don’t stop fighting. We just remain faithful to our calling, even when we lose.

    So … let me see if I can sum this up … you’ve prayed the prayer, and you believe that God hates you because you aren’t instantly free of your sins, prophesying, healing the sick, and otherwise walking around with this shining halo around your person?

    All I can say is, somewhere along the line someone’s sold you a bill of goods as to what to expect. Sometimes God works that way, but a lot of other times he’s a fan of the slow, progressive work.

    All these things will come. But he has a lifetime to bring them about in your life. The trick is to be patient and trust him and not bail out because the “victorious life” claptrap was a bill of goods.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  10. Michael, I think this is a very well balanced approach to a difficult question — and Brian P., I think your comments just above are spot-on as well. Before we’re too quick to determine whether that sinning person is “really saved,” we all need to look at our own journies. If you honestly look into your heart, can you say that there is no sinful attitude or inclination of any kind that you’re still clinging to? If you answer “yes,” I’d venture to say you’re not being honest. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of a maturing Christian is a person who progressively becomes aware of the depths of his own sinfulness. This is particularly so when we consider how Jesus viewed sin and righteousness. Who among us can claim to truly and always love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, or to love our neighbor as ourselves?

    And yet, scripture also is clear that persistent obvious, willful disobedience indicates that a person is not part of the genuine community of faith. I think this relates to an internal condition more than to the external acts themselves. A person who has genuine faith in Jesus, over the arc of his or her life, has a teleology towards becoming more like Jesus. Someone who has no interest at all in become like Jesus — including perhaps resisting some activity that clearly violates the moral law — can’t be called a follower of Jesus. The point of these parts of scripture, I’m convinced, aren’t to help us to decide who’s “out” and who’s “in,” but rather are there to admonish each person individually and churches collectively to examine whether they are heading in the right direction.

    BTW, C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters provide some deep and very helpful insights on these questions.

    Ddickens, you seem agonized by your situation, which seems to suggest some genuine interest in growing as a follower of Jesus. I’d echo the comments here that you need to find help from a pastor or Christian counselor. You’re not alone. Many, many, many Christians today struggle with sinful addictions, often to internet porn. The spiritual and psychological aspects of this kind of addiction are complex and don’t vanish overnight. Perhaps your faith in Jesus is genuine and needs to be nourished, or perhaps you need to make that first turn on the road towards home. Either way, finding an honest, mature conversation partner is key.

  11. Great blog site and good posts on the above question. I would like to reply to the question “is a person who is saved always saved?” The first example in Scripture is during Jesus’s ministry. Christ prayed all night for the future apostles. The next day the Father had Him choose 12 one of which was the son of perdition, Judas Iscariot. Therefore even in Christ’s intimate circle there was a man who was chosen of God yet denied God. Was he saved? I believe that at one point Judas Iscariot was a believer and even when tested in John Chapter 6 when Jesus said you must eat my flesh and drink my blood, Judas did not leave even though many disciples did leave (John 6:66). The second example that I give is Paul who had quite a following of Godly men like Timothy, Titus, Mark, and others, but in Colossians 4:14 Demas, another disciple of Christ and follower of Paul, was in good standing in 61 AD yet you read in II Timothy 4:10 where Demas forsakes Paul for the world. In 6 years something happens to Demas where he stops walking with the Lord and runs back to the world much like the children of Israel wanted to go back to Egypt. Scripturally people have found many scriptures to both support and deny once saved always saved. One scripture that denies this is Revelations 3:5 where Jesus says to the apostle John about the church in Sardis that “I will not erase/blot his name out of the book of life” if you overcome the spiritual death that that church was facing. Therefore God has a pencil that He uses to write our name and His pencil also has an eraser. But in lieu of all this I believe that the Holy Spirit has showed me that a man who consistently and persistently trusts and seeks the Lord Jesus Christ will after a period of time become more confident in the fact that they are saved and there is no turning back. We have more good examples of faithful servants than bad examples in Bible. Therefore whom God saves He saves and from God’s standpoint once saved always saved is true since He knows the future, yet He chooses to love us in the present regardless of our future choices.

  12. To echo and add to some of the previous thoughts – I believe God is using my failure/sin to bring some much needed humility and increase my desire for God and his people. Unfortunately, I am able to resist this too. Especially humbling are the weaknesses I always judged others by. I always thought I would be a great Christian leader and, after twenty plus years, it seems as if God just wants me to sit in the pew, shut my mouth, and work on the basics of being a good follower. Thanks for the thoughts and the honesty – while the internet can’t replace the local church, it sure is an encouragement.

  13. ddickens says

    Sorry I took so long to respond. I’ve been away from my computer for a few days.

    [This comment has been edited. The edited paragraphs were intended for me, and I read them.]

    I’d like to thank those of you who offered up your own honest hearts on the matter. It means a great deal to me. I can assure you, I’ll spend alot of time following up these leads.

    I have spoken with dozens of learned and Christ-commited lay and professional brothers and sisters about this issue. I have even been to formal psychological counciling with the hope that it was some “emotional” and not “theological” problem.

    All for not. I suspect that’s because there is no answer. I can only think that God intends there to be no answer. It’s possible that God holds me (and others like me) close to Him by way of the unanswerable. He may need me broken in this way. I can only hope that this serves His plans.

    I can’t remember now exactly there in the scriptures I remember this, but someone (I suspect it might be Job only because of the themes, but I don’t remember) says basically, even if God ultimately destroys Him he’s still going to follow God.

    I suppose that’s me.

  14. christlifter says

    ddickens:

    Praise God for a man who has no guile about his conditions, because God seeks His righteousness to be fufilled in us by Himself, not our own power, apart from feelings, which are the result of faith, in and that comes from God’s Word.

    withchrist.org

    You might not read this, but I know these truths will help you immensley, becasue they did me. If you are born-again, then you WILL grow through what I want to share with you in these websites, (this is not one-natureism), and if not(which is unlikely? but betwen you and God) this will open your eyes to the Fulness of Christ. Just do not be like the Book of Hebrews and turn away!

    Here is what I see in the Scripture in your case, BUT REMEMBER LOOK AT THESE WEBSITES!!

    John 8:8-11

    “…He lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you (or without that specific sin),
    let him first cast a stone at her.
    And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience (God’s Law – Rom 2:15-16), went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
    When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

    She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.